As a boy, Wolfhound (Aleksandr Bukharov) saw his peaceful village massacred by marauding warriors in league with the so-called Goddess of Death Morana. His parents were murdered and he was sold into slavery. Years later, accompanied by his faithful pet bat, Wolfhound kills one of the warlords responsible and rescues a captive slave girl and a blind wizard. Hitching a ride with a convoy who include a young soldier who is really the courageous and intelligent Princess Knesinka Elen (Oksana Akinshina), Wolfhound fends off an ambush by “Greedy”, the same skull-masked warlord who slaughtered his tribe. Slicing the villain’s hand off he gains a mighty magic sword. Later, Wolfhound trades his precious weapon to free the scholarly, young Evirkh (Artyom Semakin) from slavery. Impressed by his valour, Knesinka retrieves the sword and appoints Wolfhound chief bodyguard on her journey to an arranged marriage with Duke Vinitar (Anatoly Belyy), intended to forge an alliance against Greedy. It proves a perilous trip as someone repeatedly tries to assassinate Knesinka.
Advances in digital effects have meant other countries can make blockbusters that match the slickest efforts of Hollywood. None more so than Russia who have a tradition of effects-laden extravaganzas dating back to the films of animator/special effects wizard/director Alexander Ptushko. Based on the novel “Volkodav iz roda Serykh Psov” (Wolfhound from the Grey Hound Clan), this agreeable fantasy adventure adheres to the sword and sorcery template Robert E. Howard established with Conan the Barbarian. Only Wolfhound exhibits more decency and vulnerability than the monosyllabic oaf essayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The sprawling plot takes a while to cohere but the film features engagingly earnest heroes and heroines, interestingly detailed pagan beliefs, and intriguing, intertwined themes. Rejecting fate and destiny in favour of reason and compassion, Wolfhound endeavours to forge his own future. There is also an underlining message about respecting all faiths and not forcing your beliefs on others.
It boils down to a clash between burgeoning civilisation (which values compassion) and regressive barbarianism (which clings to brutality), highlighted in one scene where Knesinka bravely intervenes when another tribe try to drown a woman who has used “witchery”, in other words medicine, to save the life of a child. Another clever sequence cross-cuts between Knesinka being anointed for her impending nuptials and Greedy sacrificing a young calf, drawing a parallel between political and pagan sacrifice. There are winning performances from Aleksandr Bukharov and Oksana Akinshina, star of the harrowing Lilya 4-Ever (2002) and also in The Bourne Supremacy (2004), as the stoic hero and strong-willed princess. The narrative splits awkwardly in two when Wolfhound’s companions head off alone on some nebulous quest, when it turns out they needed to stay behind all along, and the film is overloaded with supporting characters who remain vaguely defined and in some cases never given names. The effects-laden climax is suitably spectacular even though it slightly undermines the central message by relying on a deus ex machina rather than heroic ingenuity. Apparently, a prequel was made called Young Wolfhound (2007).